Louisiana’s health secretary is clashing with the pharmaceutical industry over the high costs of hepatitis C drugs that she says are so expensive many infected people in the state go without treatment.
Rebekah Gee, a doctor, has enlisted public health and legal experts from around the country to study options to lower the price tag for treatment that costs more than $20,000 per patient to combat the blood-borne viral infection that can cause liver failure and death.
Among the options, Gee said Monday she is exploring the possible use of a little-known, 1910 federal patent law she hopes could allow the federal government to drastically force down the price of hepatitis C medications.
Continuing public concerns over high-priced hepatitis C drugs are taking a new twist as Louisiana’s top health official proposes using an obscure federal patent law to get the medicines at a much lower cost. If successful, other states could reap the benefits.
Covering treatment for the 35,000 uninsured and Medicaid-dependent residents with hepatitis C would cost the state $764 million given current drug costs, a staggering sum that would have to be pulled from schools, public services and infrastructure programs. Louisiana’s budget runs to $31.2 billion a year, but its discretionary programs, such as health care, account for $3.6 billion.
“We don’t have the resources,” said Rebekah Gee, the state’s health secretary.
Howard Josepher lived with hepatitis C, a virus that can lead to chronic liver problems, for at least two decades before he was able to access the 90-day, $90,000 drug regimen that cured him in 2015. Josepher, 78, received his diagnosis in the 1990s but said he believes he contracted the virus from shared needles sometime around 1964, shortly before he stopped using heroin for good.
“In those days, we did not know or ever hear of or use a term called hepatitis,” said Josepher, co-founder and executive director of Exponents, a lower Manhattan community center serving people with substance abuse issues. He said at least one of his friends died from liver complications.
Now epidemiologists say the virus is spreading among a new generation of New Yorkers, driven by an increase in heroin use. An estimated 200,000 residents are living with hepatitis C—more than the number with HIV—and about half are unaware of their diagnosis, according to the epidemiologists.
A Nanaimo, B.C., woman who contracted the hepatitis C virus through tainted blood has been denied a blockbuster new medication the province says is extremely expensive and would bankrupt the health budget.
“I think about having hepatitis C every day,” says Nikky Davies, who has liver damage and suffers from headaches, nausea and fatigue. “It’s ruined my quality of life.”
In September 2016, the United States Conference on AIDS (USCA2016) occurred in Hollywood, Florida. The National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC) organized it. Drug manufacturers, Gilead, Merck, ViiV and others provided financial sponsorship.
While antiretroviral treatment (ART) has saved millions of lives, drug companies charge exorbitant prices for ART. This has not made them popular, despite their coupons and various discounts. The drug companies have priced Hepatitis C treatments even higher. Gilead charges $94,500 for a 12-week treatment for Hepatitis C. A mark-up like that would even embarrass Nieman-Marcus.
These high costs absorb large shares of HIV spending, leaving less for other HIV programs. These same drug companies fund HIV conferences, HIV media, and LGBT media.
Specialty drug costs jumped 30 percent last year to $587 million for the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, one of the nation’s largest health care purchasers.
Though they amount to less than 1 percent of all prescriptions, specialty drugs accounted for more than a quarter of the state agency’s $2.1 billion in total pharmacy costs. Those overall drug costs have climbed 40 percent since 2010.
The new figures show just how much financial pressure many employers and government agencies face from rising drug costs and why it’s become such a hot topic in California politics and on the presidential campaign trail.
Note: While this is good news that HCV prices in the United States are lower than some countries it is still no excuse for the high prices that keep the HCV drugs out of reach of many people with hepatitis C who need them. Alan
WASHINGTON, Sept. 20, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — A new report, “Comparison of Hepatitis C Treatment Costs,” shows Hepatitis C drug prices, specifically negotiated by pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) in Medicare Part D in 2015, were typically lower than prices in Europe and Japan.
The report, conducted independently by IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics and commissioned by the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association (PCMA), focuses on two drugs, Sovaldi and Harvoni, and finds that of the seven major industrialized countries, only Italy had lower average net costs than Part D for a typical 12-week course of Hepatitis C medication, however, Italy had a lower treatment rate than the U.S.
“According to this comparison, conventional wisdom has underestimated the ability of large, sophisticated, private-sector payers to reduce costs and improve access to high cost drugs,” said PCMA President and CEO Mark Merritt.
In this year’s presidential campaign, health care has taken a back seat. But one issue appears to be breaking through: the rising cost of prescription drugs.
The blockbuster drugs to treat hepatitis C as well as dramatic price increases on older drugs, most recently the EpiPen allergy treatment, have combined to put the issue back on the front burner.
Democrat Hillary Clinton just issued a lengthy proposal to address what her campaign calls “unjustified price hikes for long-available drugs.” That’s in addition to a broader proposal to address high drug prices the campaign put out last fall.